Four (and a Half) Scientific Reasons Why Meditation is Good for You
Amongst many Eastern civilizations, it’s been common knowledge for thousands of years that meditation delivers enormous benefits, for both body and soul. In the West, this understanding has been a little slower in gaining widespread acceptance. Thousands of years slower, in fact. Minus a decade or two.
But we seem to have caught on. Suddenly, the notion that we might benefit from practicing meditation has entered our consciousness. Of course, being Westerners, it’s not enough simply to accept this essential truth. We need to prove it. The result has been a whole raft of studies in recent times examining meditation and whether it actually delivers what its proponents claim.
And – surprise, surprise – the results have been positive. Here’s four (and a half) scientifically proven reasons why meditation is good for you.
1. Meditation Makes You Smarter
It seems that the brains of those who meditate regularly are wired to function better. A series of studies conducted in the last few years has demonstrated that there is enhanced brain connectivity amongst long-term meditators, whilst they also possess a thicker cerebral cortex and more grey matter. Another, recently published study, conducted by researchers in Norway, has also demonstrated that people who meditate are able to better process ideas and feelings.
2. Meditation Can Help Prevent the Effects of Aging
Meditation can slow down the effects of aging. Yes, really! At least, that seems to be the conclusion of research stemming from an ongoing collaboration between Nobel Prize winner Dr Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr Elissa Epel, the director of the Aging, Metabolism and Emotion Center at UCSF.
In their research, Blackburn and Epel have focused on telemores, protective caps (like the plastic tips on shoelaces) which shield the ends of our chromosomes and stop them from fraying and sticking to each other when they divide. Sadly, each time a cell divides, telemores get shorter and shorter, to the point that a cell can no longer divide and it dies. This shortening process is held to be a key to aging and telemore length is not only an important indicator of how healthy we are but also of our biological age.
So what’s this got to do with meditation? Simply this. The consistent results of Blackburn and Epel’s research is that people who meditate are likely to have longer telemores than those who are in a similar position to them but don’t meditate. In all likelihood, this has a lot to do with stress and the ability of those who meditate to deal with it better. They are more present to themselves and to others, meaning that they are able to step back from negative thoughts and thus place less stress on their bodies.
Telemores seem to like this. They stay longer for an extended period of time and we stay more youthful as a result.
3. Meditation Bolsters Our Immune System
Meditation lowers stress and, by its very nature, enhances our connectivity with our body and our emotions. And this, in turn, helps to improve our immune function and our overall levels of wellness. A 2003 clinical study conducted by professor Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that a group who utilized simple meditation techniques – in comparison to a group who did not – had higher levels of antibodies in their blood and a healthier immune system overall. Professor Davidson’s findings have since been confirmed in a second study, conducted by Dr Britta Hazel in 2011.
4. Meditation Makes Us Happier
Meditation is not only effective at reducing stress. A whole raft of studies have shown it can decrease anxiety and depression and increase positive emotions. We become calmer when we meditate, more considerate and empathetic towards others, and – when all is said and done – flat out happier.
4.5 Meditation Makes Us Sexier!
Okay. So no one in a white lab coat has actually come out and published an article claiming this to be the case. But it’s too good – too sexy – a point to leave out! And besides, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and related studies which indicate that we really are sexier when we meditate.
We know, for example, that there’s a direct correlation between a positive frame of mind and the health of our skin. And as we’ve seen above, a person who meditates is smarter, healthier, happier, and ages slower. Meditation makes us calmer, we listen better, our posture improves, we have more energy, we’re less impulsive (including satisfying our cravings for food), and we’re more likely to see the good in a person or situation, rather than the bad.
This is quite a list. It sounds pretty damn sexy to me.
In the end, science is beginning to catch up with something we all understand instinctively. Meditation is good for us. If it’s not something you practice, then you might want to give it some thought; maybe even meditate upon it.
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